Imagine that you knew when you would die. Maybe not the exact date, but the age. That is the future that is the world of Wither. A virus caused by genetic engineering has, essentially, given humans an expiration date. Men live until age 25; women die at age 20. In an effort to repopulate a North America devastated by the virus, rich young men have many wives – and they don’t always come to their marriages willingly. Rhine is kidnapped away from her twin brother Ronan and married to Linden, a young man whose first wife Rose, is twenty and dying. Rhine and her sister wives, Jenna and Cecily, live as pampered brides in Linden’s estate, which is run by his sinister father, Housemaster Vaughn. Rhine begins to learn more and more about her new home, and each new piece of information is more disturbing than the last. She decides that escape is her only option, or else she may suffer a fate much worse than a loveless marriage to a man she hardly knows.
Wither is dystopian fiction at its best. Lauren DeStefano has created a truly scary world with a horrifying premise – each person knows that they will never grow old, never enjoy the pleasures of a long life. Rhine is a terrific character – a teenage girl who has been imprisoned but is determined not to live as a victim. Her curiosity and strength propel her through the story. She is resolved to escape this home-slash-prison, but begins to care for her sister wives in spite of herself. Young, spoiled Cecily, who was raised in an orphanage to want nothing more than to be a bride to a rich man. Jenna, who was kidnapped along with her two sisters, sisters she lost when she was chosen as Linden’s bride and they were not.
Making things even more complicated are the feelings she begins to have for two young men. Gabriel is a servant on Linden’s estate, and her key to learning the darkest secrets dwelling in Housemaster Vaughn’s laboratory in the basement. And then there is her new husband, Linden, a young man who is almost as much a prisoner of Vaughn’s lies as she is.
As Rhine watches her sister-wives’ lives being destroyed, she determines that she will not suffer the same fate. But what about Gabriel? What will happen to him if she leaves? And how do you escape from a place which seems to have no entrance or exit, a place that seems to have eyes and ears everywhere?
Wither is the first book in DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy – an exciting to start to what promises to be a fantastic series.